“Honey.. I don’t know what to do, again..!!”
Not often, but if you listen carefully enough these words can be heard echoing across the bare apartment walls. The dilemma of not knowing what to do, which mountain to go visit. How can this become a problem in the first place? With so many sprawling networks of trails, seemingly endless bumps of mountain ranges both big and small, just take your pick!
All throughout the week, similar to any other week that I know Ciara is going to be on call, I know I have free rein to sprawl out in any direction I choose. The weather had been checked, which looked good – real good in fact! I could hop in the trusty Subaru and drive any direction settled on – north if I wanted to stay local and visit Moosilauke, head a bit further east and I could be in the Wild River Wilderness area of the White Mountain National Forest, west would take me back to the lovely Green Mountains, of which I had several 3500 bumps on the horizon that I had been meaning to pay a visit. South of Plainfield, however; this area did not hold as many options as the other directions, but there was one summit that had been on my ‘to-do’ list .. or better yet, my ‘please-visit-when-you-have-a-spare-several-hours’ list.
We have now lived in the state of New Hampshire for about 16 months, and the name of this mountain is one that I have known for all of these 16 months: Monadnock. We first saw this towering mass while Ciara was showing me the pretty side of Keene, where she spent sometime doing the college things in years past. The instant we turned through the double rows of trees onto Rt 101 it was there sticking up off of the horizon, “whoa.. what the heck is that thing??”, I remember murmuring as I reached for my phone to check the GPS maps. She was certain what we were staring at was a local favorite, in fact a favorite of just about everyone in the state who had climbed its flanks.
It was the only mass in sight rising off the horizon line: Mount Monadnock.
While doing my search for weather, trail maps, reports, conditions, history – I quickly learned that there are quite a few of these Monadnocks around the area, no less than five dot the topographic maps of New Hampshire and at least one in Vermont. So, why is this such a popular name? While most mountains are named for folks (famous first discoverers, or landowners, or important folks, etc.) or towns found in far away countries, a monadnock is quite simply a geological term given for a rock formation which rises at least 1,000 feet above the surrounding highlands. Our Monadnock today just happens to be an ultra-hard chunk of bedrock that just refused to erode away as the rest of the valleys had, luckily for this feature, it gives adventure-seeker folks such as myself something to do!
If this mountain had been on our radar for so long, and we had visited the area several times, why had the trails not yet been traversed by us? With miles and miles of connecting trails – this seemed like such a beautiful area to trail run, winter hike or just relax on its open summit on a windless day. We knew Mount Monadnock to be contained in the State Park, which clearly has blasted all over its website that puppy dogs are not allowed under any circumstances (ours are always on leash, like most posted signs recommend). We really saw no feasible reason to go hike this just to check it off a list while our boys slept in the car – we don’t hike like that!
So Monadnock, for nearly a year and a half stayed on the “boy, that would be nice to visit, but not without our doggies” list!
After much debate and stating that I had no idea where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to hike – I decided to make the trek south on Sunday, March 24th, to get an early start seeing what this mound of bedrock had to offer!
One could easily get tangled up in the question of how to ascend the mountain, one glance at the trail map clearly shows six main ways of travel to converge upon its summit, with a plethora of sub-trails spider-webbing all around – so a vague idea of the network is recommended. I had my maps, studied them well and decided to at least narrow it down to the Dublin Trail as this was the most straight-forward trailhead to my southerly direction out of Plainfield, but I had read raving reviews, all featuring something slightly varying from trail to trail – I wanted to traverse them all!
Sunday made for a very lovely drive down along I-91, passing several farm stands once on more back roads that I deeply wished would be open for my return trip later in the afternoon. Once again, turning onto Rt 101 and heading east, there it was directly ahead, the only mass in sight, towering above the sleeping townsfolk like a dormant volcano.
Thanks to Google Maps, my antique iPhone easily got me down the correct roads which wasted no time turning to icy, snow-covered dirt. We had received a hefty three or four inches several days prior north where I had departed, it appeared that they had some snow down in Keene in the areas that the sun Saturday had not graced, I was actually quite surprised to see bare, leaf covered trails diverging from the rail trail parking lot.
When I come across a sign that reads “Road Not Maintained: Road Closed For Season”, I typically try to not push the limits of my Impreza. Noting that the tracks did continue the additional mile to the official trailhead parking lot, the owner of the tire tracks had also bottomed their vehicles out, scraping a flat layer of fresh snow dotted with their oil all the way down the closed road. Not me, not today, I was alone early in the morning and just did not need to get crazy in the Subaru already today.
The spot was got; second car in a plowed out area next to an old farm, I assumed it was okay to park there – off on the side, out of any tractor paths, good to go! The Dion snowshoes simply went for the car ride, but I did opt for the Asolo boots and brought the Hillsound spikes for later on when the fluffy stuff turned to flowing ice down the trails. I was beginning the day in 24 degree morning temps, but with predictions of up-to 35ish, I had the longsleeve base layer with Gore Wear wind jacket on top – while there was next to no wind down at the trailhead, mountain-forecast.com was actually calling for 45 mph sustained winds on the summit. Super stoked to break out the new Salomon 12L hydration pack for the first time, I had the Gore-Tex Marmot jacket tucked comfortably in the back, along with some extra beanies to switch out the headgear before summiting in case the sweat-factor grew too hefty.
On the trail we went, or better yet – down the road to find the actual trail we went, using the tire track to gain traction. A quick 0.9 miles and I was in the main parking lot checking out the large scale map of the wilderness one last time, the Dublin trail was super straight forward, no divergences until I reached the higher elevations, so follow the white reflectors is all I needed to do.
Actually, I was very surprised to see that the trail was as broken down as it was, looked like a small herd of jackelope had been traipsing through these parts. It only took a matter of minutes before I heard who the prints belonged too – I passed the first guests of the morning around 8am, they had just come down from the summit, watching today’s sunrise and in the process had become quite chilled in the gale force winds up on the open summit. I didn’t get a chance to ask how the sunrise was, but assumed if timed just right, they would have lucked out big time!
The trek thus far was only through 4 inches of powder so no need for those snowshoes (I was still tired of wearing them from the Nor’East Ultra Snowshoe 50K just prior!), but with the trail becoming increasingly ‘ledgy’, I reluctantly put on the Hillsound spikes. First fortified step onto the flowing ice and I was immediately reminded of why I bought a second pair of these Canadian mini-crampons, treked right up the icy granite like it was bare boulder!
As the amount of sidewinding spur trails increased, and the lookout vistas grew vastly in number, I knew I was getting close because this mount of Monadnock was only ~1700 feet above the surrounding towns (listed as 3150′ ASL), I could track all of my progress on my Coros watch, step by step so I knew exactly where I was via three satellites.
Reaching the last real area of tree cover (which had grown incredibly stunted by this time), I took a moment to pause, turn around, and simply breathe in the gusts. I could hear the wind and knew that once I was above the treeline, I would be in for the chaos until I retreated to this very spot some time later in the morning.
With no guidance from marked trees, and knowing the white rock blazes were now covered with feet of snow and ice, I just continued in the general direction of “up” as the foot prints now radiated out in every direction that I could see, even up and over the poor alpine flora for no apparent reason (this made me sad, there was clearly no reason to trample the alpine growth that took probably decades or longer to obtain its foothold on the bare, abrasive mountainside, these tracks were clearly out of sheer laziness).
Knowing that I was still following a roughly southeast direction (I could tell by where the sun sat in the sky this morning..), I tracked around boulders and scooting over rocks, it was nice to finally engage all of my limbs as I whispered to myself “Parkour!”.
Reaching the signage for ‘Jim’s Junction’, it was reassuring to know that I was still on a marked trail one way or another. It was clearly time for an extra layer as I made the final push to the summit – actually, what I saw in the distance I assumed was this ‘false summit’ that the sunrise trio had warned me about, turns out that I had already passed that rock minutes prior though!
Up and over the next pile of rock, trying to trek lightly over beautiful wind-sculpted ice formations – to my delight.. and surprise there was a Geological Survey marker (two actually, which made me think there was a third buried somewhere under all the ice that would form a triangle across the summit, each bearing different icons), a 4inch bronze disk embedded in the bedrock. “I made it!”, I exclaimed to myself in my own thoughts, actually it may had been right out loud, but with these gusts well over the predicted 45mph winds, I never would have heard my own voice. The GoPro was out and snapping away as I braced a hip against the rock – even with this, there were several blasts that came through and forced an extra few degrees of lean and the need to brace with both hands – needless to say.. the winds were pretty dang robust up here today!
What felt like 30 minutes up above treeline very well could have been closer to 2 minutes, just long enough for a handful of photos and to shut my eyes and absorb a few strong wind gusts, taking in a few meditative breaths and just be in the moment. It felt incredible to pass from “just-another-hike” down in the treeline to moments later being privileged to experience such potentially destructive natural forces, such as this wind.
Retracing my windswept steps, I decided to check out this false summit – I found out afterward that it did in fact have a name: Dublin Peak, listed to be around 3031′. Standing on its micro-summit, I captured a video, something I rarely use the GoPro for – but I had to bring a taste of this wind back to share with Ciara – it was wicked!
During the ascent I was actually a bit concerned that retracing my steps would take longer than needed and perhaps I would get chilled, of course I began to over-think the situation – that’s just how my mind works, dwelling on the “oh shit.. what if I fall off the cliff” moment. Well.. if it actually did happen, at least then I would have played the scenario out in my mind 50+ times! Luckily this did not happen; the tracks were windswept, but being a bluebird day I was easily able to see well out ahead and keep a straight trajectory toward the treeline where I ascended.
Much of the descent back to the Dublin Trail was such a degree of rock-solid ice that I was actually able to start a bit of scurrying-jog here and there, making the travel super fast. The pace continued as I made the initial switchbacks, rounding tree after tree. Once again the GoPro made another appearance in ‘video-mode’. I gave the audience a “woohoo!” as I bounded down the rock face, just to look up and see a couple slowly making their way up the slope. Assuming they thought I was having way too much fun (I really kind of was..), I gave them a big wave, tossed a smile their direction and wished them an excellent hike.
The hillside encouraged a steady yet comfortable pace as I continued on, finally shutting off the GoPro after filming enough of my fancy footwork to make any viewer nauseous as I zoomed over the rolling trail. Having no real concept of what time of the morning it really was, I stopped briefly to chat with the final couple of the day – super friendly French-Canadian folks with most outstanding accents! They asked about the summit conditions – not wanting to believe my report of the face-slapping bitter cold wind, nor the fact that I was just now breaking two hours. Once again, I wished this party a stellar blue-sky day and they essentially wished the same for me and the remainder of my day.
From here it was back to the 0.9 mile jaunt back to the Subaru via packed snow logging/farm road. As I ended my Coros GPS track, simultaneously reaching for the refreshing 16 ouncer of fresh, pure celery juice from the refrigerator which has also been known to be.. my car.
What a marvelous day! Great hike! I hiked/ran it fast, I absolutely cannot wait to return during warmer weather, wearing fewer layers (and hopefully sneak Ciara + 2 puppies in), so we can bask in the sun and enjoy all of those incredible views.
Life is truly magnificent up in these mountains!!
Know a place I need to check out? ..running or hiking.. let me know!
Want to hike or run? Let’s do it!
Thanks for reading and checking out my adventures!
Overall stats for the day:
Recorded with my Coros Pace GPS watch
- 6.4 miles
- 2hr 32minute
- 2,051′ elevation gain
- 52 With A View (#26 highest)
- 3165′ highest elevation